Apr 15

Defending Dirk Starts With Batum

By caseyholdahl Posted in: Blazers, BrandonRoy, LaMarcusAldridge, MarcusCamby, Mavericks, NicolasBatum

There's no one better in the NBA at hitting off-balance shots than Dirk Nowitzki. You can play him as close as the referees will allow, defend his tendencies to perfection, and he'll still hit a one-legged fadeaway in your grill at the shot clock buzzer.

Nicolas Batum has seen Nowitzki hit that kind of shot time and time again, but hitting leaning jumpers that would be low-percentage shots for almost anyone else in the league isn't the craziest thing Nic has seen Dirk do.

"I saw (Nowitzki) practice in the offseason five, six years ago," said Batum. "I was in Italy. It was crazy. He was with Basketball Without Borders. This guy, I know why he's still good now because he works out so hard. In a different way, because he do some crazy (stuff). He walks on his hands. Up and down the court walking on his hands to work on his balance."

Maybe that's why Nowitzki is one of the best in the game at getting off quality shots while seemingly falling down. And maybe that's why Batum will spend much of his energy during the first round series against the Mavericks trying to make Nowitzki shoot those very same shots that have made him one of the most difficult players to guard.

"I watch a lot of film about (Nowitzki)," said Batum. "Just try to stop him. He got a lot of strengths, but he's got some weakness, so I try to learn his weakness. He's going to be tough to guard, especially in playoff mode. He just wants a ring. He's got everything but the ring. I know he wants a ring, so it's going to be tough to guard him."

Batum, as we've often seen throughout his career in Portland, is usually Nate McMillan's go-to guy when it comes to covering the opposing team's best offensive threat, and that's not likely to change when the Trail Blazers and Mavericks meet in Game 1 Saturday. Though Batum is no longer in the starting lineup, he still possesses the qualities that make him better than most when it comes to slowing down a guy like Nowitzki.

"I think the big thing is (Batum's) length and his ability to guard on the perimeter as well as in the post," said McMillan. "Most guys that match up with Dirk, they can't guard him in the post because they're too small or they can't guard him on the perimeter because they're too big. Nic has the ability to guard him in the post, with some help, but also if he steps out on the perimeter he can guard him, because he's capable of putting the ball on the floor."

He's also capable of wearing guys out, especially one-on-one, which is why Batum won't be the only Trail Blazer tasked with defending Dirk come Saturday night. In fact, just about everyone will get a crack at 10-time All-Star before the series is said a done.

"Gerald will play (Nowitzki) because his physical play, meaning his strength, will allow him to play Dirk," said McMillan. "With our defense and some of our schemes, Gerald will be on him, Gerald will switch on him, LaMarcus will be on him, Camby will see some time on him. Even Brandon could see some time on him because of some of the things we feel we have to do in order to cover some of their sets."

So Batum, while he's likely to guard Dirk more often than his teammates, isn't going it alone, and that's just fine with Nic, who said Nowitzki is his favorite player in the NBA but that he hates defending him because "he's too good." But Batum is driven by a desire which trumps his disdain for guarding Nowitzki.

"I don't want to go back to France in two weeks," said Batum. "I really don't. I'm good here."

If he can be good or better at making Nowitzki's life difficult, Nic just might get his wish.
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  1. I would love to see Gerald and Nic rotate on him throughout the first 3 quarter, then let LA swarm him the entire 4th quarter. LA may not be the best individual defender we have on the team, but his height/length combo is something no one else can match and he does a really good job of moving his feet while defending the perimeter, an area where Dirk loves to operate. The key is to force Dirk into tough shots. Do not let him get open looks which can get his rhythm flowing.

    by DHawes22 on 4/15/2011 10:13 PM
  2. Nic also has the tendancy to irritate Dirk, which is a good thing.

    by Hg on 4/15/2011 10:41 PM
  3. I could not agree more! My wife & I flew to Dallas from El Paso last season when Dre scored 52 in OT Blazer win. Batum defending Dirk in 4th & OT was a key to the win. We were in Dallas on 12/15 this season when LA scored 35 in a Blazer loss. I was screaming for Nate to defend Dirk with Batum & when he finally did in 4th qtr, Blazers made a run. Dirk still scored on Batum but he created a lot of problems for Dirk.
    While I like how Portland uses zone defense as a change up a lot & has success vs many teams, the zone has had little success vs Mavs & I hope Blazers do not stay with zone defense vs Mavs for too long in this series.


    by Tod Clark on 4/15/2011 11:27 PM
  4. I agree with the point that just about everyone will get a shot at guarding Dirk and it will come in tandems or triples. Dirk has proven over the years that if you single cover him long enough(no matter whom you put on him) he will destroy you. As much as his teams have not faired well in the post season, Dirk has been a beast. It's not been Dirk playing poorly that has ousted the Mavericks in the first round 3 of the last 4 years.

    by A Voice of Reason on 4/16/2011 8:01 AM
  5. Found this to be interesting; The Dallas Mavericks boast the league’s 8th rated offense and defense when adjusted for pace. They allow opponents an average of 96 points per game while scoring just over 100 themselves (good for a +4.2 differential, if you care about that sort of thing). Dallas also rated right in the middle of the pack (18th) in terms of pace (basically possessions per game). Dallas finished with a record of 57-25 while playing the 8th most difficult schedule in the league. They were also tied with Miami for best road record, while Portland finished below .500 on the road.

    Portland comes into the playoffs with a top ten offensive rating and the 14th best defensive rating. The Blazers score just over 96 points a night while giving up just under 95 (+1.5 differential). They are dead last in terms of pace, playing about 88 possessions a game, compared to Dallas’ 91. The Blazers managed a record of 48-34 while playing the 12th hardest schedule.

    by A Voice of Reason on 4/16/2011 8:06 AM
  6. Good stuff voice of reason. Only thing i would say is it's hard to tell how important season stats are vs. stats since Gerald Wallace joined the team. I would think the latter would be more telling than the former.

    by caseyholdahl on 4/16/2011 9:14 AM
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